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Promise on Immigration Could Affect Iraq Funds Vote

House GOP leaders have promised Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) that controversial immigration provisions he had wanted to include in the intelligence-reform bill will be brought up for a vote in the House early next year — but that assurance could set up a fight with the Senate over next year’s supplemental spending bill for the Iraq war.

At a press conference today, Sensenbrenner said that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have committed to attaching three immigration provisions to “the first must-pass legislation” that makes its way through the chamber next year. And the first “must-pass” bill to wend its way through Congress is expected to be the supplemental appropriations measure to fund the ongoing war in Iraq.

“We have set this thing up so that when the ‘must-pass’ train leaves the station, this will be in it,” said Sensenbrenner.

Sensenbrenner secured his leaders’ commitment after losing a public battle to include the provisions in an intelligence-reform bill that passed the House last night and which the Senate is expected clear for the president’s signature this afternoon. Though the provisions had strong support among House conservatives, both Senate Republicans and Democrats balked at including them in the final negotiated bill.

The provisions, which were part of the original House version of the intelligence bill, would set strong national standards for drivers’ licenses, make it harder for refugees to make asylum claims in U.S. immigration courts, and force the completion of a California border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The provisions on drivers’ licenses would require states to adopt certain standards for identifying documents in order to keep them valid for access to airplanes, among other things.

Sensenbrenner said the provisions are needed to protect national security “so when people get on an airplane we’ll know who they really are, and when they open a bank accounts we’ll know who they really are.”

Sensenbrenner said his asylum provisions would prevent judges from always presuming that a person’s claim of refugee status is valid until proof has been supplied.

He said the language would “stop rewarding the terrorists and criminals that falsely claim persecution.”

Of the fence, Sensenbrenner said that not having one was a “not only a national embarrassment but also a security risk,” because the current three-mile opening in the fence allows illegal aliens, and possibly terrorists, to more easily cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sensenbrenner sidestepped a question about whether he has the full backing of the Bush administration. He said the White House has supported the asylum changes, but is “working through disputes” on drivers’ license standards.

The White House has issued no statement on the need to finish a three-mile stretch of the border fence, which has been held up by environmental concerns over a rare plant native to the area.

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